On MSVC 2010 and Sales Text

I upgraded to MSVC 2010 yesterday. Primarily for compatibility reasons — MSVC 2005 is not as common anymore and it is getting harder for people to write plugins, etc with it.

The back of the box had this beautiful feature list:

This is interesting to me as one of the things I’ve been slowly working on over the last year is doing a better job on the marketing and sales side of World Machine. There’s a common “golden rule” for writing convincing text: Tell how your product enables the user, do not just list a feature.

This is a great idea actually, as unless you know exactly what kinds of features you’re looking for, a feature list is pointless. However, the above makes me realize something:

When selling to technical people, throw out your normal rules.

I’m going to pick out a couple particularily glaring examples from above:

 

  1. Accelerate the coding process using your existing skills.
  2. Now practically anything is possible, virtually anywhere.
  3. Be more creative to build richer experiences for Windows
  4. Spend more time imagining the possibilities with [powerful editing tools]

 

None of these tell me anything at all about the product! I have no idea off the top of my head if MSVC 2010 actually has dramatically improved the coding process with an innovative new IDE, better design tools, etc…. or if they’re simply havingĀ  a creative writing session on the back of the box. And I’m inclined to naturally think the latter.

To me, this is a good example of terribly misapplied marketing. They could have sold me with C++0X standards support.. or multimonitor support, or any of the other new things. Instead I got a list of fluff.

The Lesson

If I were to try and distill down the self inflicted marketing wounds above into guidelines for myself as I pursue better marketing techniques, it would look something like this:

  1. Explain how you’ve made your users’ life easier by enabling them to do [blank] but…
  2. Also show them how/why they can achieve this result

You must satisfy both of the above at the same time to convince a technical user. Failure to follow this advice will make your carefully tweaked and sweated over sales text be simply bypassed and ignored as a “content-free zone”.

With that food for thought, I know I can certainly improve the presentation of World Machine on the website when I next have some time to devote to wearing that hat!

Beta-2, Layout View tidying

Beta-2?

Beta-2 is accumulating a nice set of bugfixes, most of which were NOT introduced in Beta-1 which is nice. I have had an isolated report of a crash issue in B1 which I have not had replicated or further information about.

Layout View

I’m right now going through and fixing some minor irritating issues with the Layout View, including inconsistencies in the UI and a couple other issues. I also would like to add a few more tools into the layout toolset — certainly allowing polygons to have custom heights set at any knot is a highly requested feature.

Anyone have any other wishlists I should know about?

On WM 2.3 and Code Debt

Beta 1 Available! Rejoice!

As I mentioned on the forums, Beta-1 of WM 2.3 is now available if you haven’t heard! Visit the main website and follow the news links to get at it.

I’ve already started fixing a couple further bugs, and introducing a few new things for Beta-2, such as multithreaded support for Thermal Erosion.

I’ve been continually mentioning how 2.3 is mostly an internals change that should pave the way for easier and more profound changes down the line. I’m hoping to be able to give folks a taste of those changes sooner rather than later.

What I really want to talk about is the concept of Code Debt.

The curse of Code Debt

One experience I’ve had on the World Machine project is just how toxic the kind of “code debt” that 2.3 addresses is. For those who aren’t familiar with the concept, Code Debt is essentially much like financial debt.

When you need something done in a whole hurry, and you don’t have the resources available, you can choose to “take out a loan” by coding things in the fastest but not best engineered way. In short, a dirty hack.

However, you have to pay interest on that loan. And the interest rate is high : Every time you need to touch that system in the future, you have to interact with your crude code. Over time, the cost of having to deal with your dirty hack far outweighs the time savings you got in the first place.

All that Work, but still the Same?

To deal with the code debt, you have to continually refactor your code to improve its quality. WM 2.3 is primarily a release aimed at doing just this. Lots of internal systems are taken apart, re-plumbed, and put back together again. The depressing thing though, is when you’re done..

… you have exactly what you started with, from the outside. In the ideal case, nothing will have changed from the User’s perspective. If you get alot of your development drive out of creating cool new features, like I do, this can be a bit depressing.

The good news of the effort though, is that done well you can move forward from that spot at a far faster clip than would have been possible if the debt was not dealt with.

Anyways, just a kind of windy aside about what the primary goals of WM 2.3 were. I hope it provides some illumination for folks out there!

The latest 'Behind the Scenes' news from Stephen, the author of World Machine